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Red Cross of North Macedonia Humanitarian Service Point in Lojane

Primary GCM Objectives

GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Dates

2016 - Present

Type of practice

Project/Programme

Geographic scope

Regions:

Sub Regions:

Local:

North Macedonia - Serbia border area around the village of Lojane

Summary

North Macedonia is located in the Western Balkans. The Western Balkan route is the most active irregular route to Europe, used mostly by migrants and displaced people from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Following discussions with local authorities and a needs assessment across all communities, the Red Cross set up a Humanitarian Service Point to provide services both to people on the move and local families in situations of vulnerability in Lojane, a village located near the border with Serbia. The Ministry of Interior and the National Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) granting authorization to enter the “no man’s land” in the forest along the border with Serbia to provide assistance and protection to migrants in distress and in situations of vulnerability. The Humanitarian Service Point has both fixed and mobile components. The fixed point was gradually equipped with a resting space, kitchen, women’s bathroom, children’s bedroom, child-friendly space, Wi-Fi and TV. In addition, mobile teams are sent out to conduct patrols, on foot and in 4x4 vehicles, to provide medical and humanitarian assistance in the border area. The HSP teams distribute food, hygiene kits, water, blankets, “winter sets” (hat, gloves, and scarf) and self-protection leaflets in different languages. They provide first aid, restoring family links services and local transport to nearby hospitals and Tabanovce transit centre. Referrals to other actors are also organised. The cooperative context with the authorities authorising the Red Cross to provide assistance in the border area allows the Red Cross to implement life-saving services for migrants who are severely injured, or need other urgent medical care (such as pregnant women, mothers giving birth or malnourished migrants). According to a staff member, the Restoring Family Links service is life-saving too as isolated or lost migrants are at increased risk from harm and abuse by smugglers.

The Humanitarian Service Point works in accordance with humanitarian principles, which are included in the standard operating procedures, along with the Red Cross mandate, security risks and the role of the police. The team attended multiple training courses including on human trafficking and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. The IFRC, the Swiss Red Cross, and the Italian Red Cross provide funding to the Red Cross of North Macedonia to run the Humanitarian Service Point in Lojane. The Government of North Macedonia also supports the Red Cross of North Macedonia with a yearly grant worth 200,000€ as part of the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Contingency Plan at the national level, which includes, but is not limited to, services for migrants. Other partner organizations include the government of North Macedonia through Centre for Crisis Management of North Macedonia which involves Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of labor and social policy, Army of North Macedonia and other relevant institutions and NGO’s, actors within the National System for disaster management.

Organizations

Main Implementing Organization(s)

Red Cross of North Macedonia

Detailed Information

Red Cross of North Macedonia

Partner/Donor Organizations

Government of North Macedonia

Benefit and Impact

Since August 2016, almost 62,000 people have been assisted by the Red Cross in Lojane, with a peak of over 14,000 people assisted in 2019. In 2022, over 7000 people were assisted while over 2200 migrants were assisted from January until June 2023. The wellbeing of migrants in distress and other migrants in situations of vulnerability is enhanced thanks to both the fixed point and mobile teams that patrol the border area to provide humanitarian support and protection. Every year, the mobile team finds deceased or gravely wounded migrants in the border area. Injured people are transported to hospital and authorities are informed about deceased migrants. The Humanitarian Service Point team has also helped to deliver babies in the border area, potentially preventing the loss of life of babies and mothers who would otherwise have been left unattended. Malnourished migrants also receive food and water, preventing further distress and/or loss of life. Access to the Restoring Family Links service also contributes to the prevention of distress and loss of life, as mentioned above.

Medical care and hospital transport provided to gravely injured migrants prevents loss of life in the very short term. Other services such as first aid, food distribution, water, and “winter sets” also contribute to preventing distress and/or the loss of life of migrants who are travelling dangerous routes in treacherous conditions.

This practice also led to secondary benefits:
- Vulnerable local families are also supported by the Humanitarian Service Point teams;
- Local authorities and communities have learnt about humanitarian principles and the work of the Red Cross;
- Red Cross support is provided to the local community during emergencies such as cold waves.

There is no planned end date. While there are plans to continue providing services while numbers crossing through Lojane remain high, the Red Cross of North Macedonia is considering an exit strategy, if and when the numbers of migrants travelling through the village start decreasing. If that happens, the plan would be to create a local branch run by volunteers from the community, who would continue to provide services both to the local population and people on the move.

Key Lessons

The main challenges included building a good connection with the President of the Lojane local community at the beginning; introducing the Red Cross and its approach to local people who had never heard about the Red Cross and its values and principles; working in an area where a lot of smugglers operate (though there have not been any security incidents); and managing to remain calm and professional when encountering people who have lost limbs or have died in the forest.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

Before opening a similar Humanitarian Service Point, it is important to consider the position of the National Society/implementing organisation vis-à-vis the authorities. The overall success of this practice is partly due to the positive cooperation between the National Society and the Government of North Macedonia. The authorities know and understand the humanitarian mandate of the National Society, and respect its limitations. The MoU granting authorisation to access the “no man’s land” along the border has been instrumental in getting access to migrants in distress, and the trust between the local police and the Red Cross has prevented loss of life of numerous migrants since 2016.

While the model can (and has been in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro) replicated elsewhere, it is crucial to adapt it to the local context and migration situation.

Innovation

Several aspects of this practice can be considered innovative:
- The MoU with authorities that authorises the RC to deploy humanitarian services in a border area where no one else is allowed to go can be considered innovative as authorities do not easily grant unimpeded access to border areas to humanitarian organisations.
- The combination of both fixed and mobile points to provide services to distressed and vulnerable migrants can be considered innovative as humanitarian service points are often either a fixed point or a mobile unit. Having both modalities allows the Red Cross to find migrants in hard to reach areas and to refer them to the fixed point where they can access more extensive services and resting areas, thus preventing distress and/or loss of life.
- The trust that has been built with the local authorities and communities: the Lojane HSP was initially created with the objective to assist and protect migrants, who were considered to be “invisible” to the system. However, the Red Cross of the Republic of North Macedonia quickly realised that gaining the trust of the local population would be crucial to facilitate their work. As a result, they carried out information sessions about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for local authorities and host communities; they recruited motivated volunteers from the village; and they opened Red Cross Youth Clubs in local schools, where children learn about the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, first aid, and humanitarian values. Based on their initial needs assessment, the team regularly distributes assistance to vulnerable local families. Ongoing feedback collection also pointed to a service gap relating to local access to gynaecologists. As a result, a weekly mobile gynaecology clinic was set up by the HSP, for local, migrant and displaced women. Trust grew between the local population and the Red Cross of North Macedonia. Locally based asylum seekers joined the HSP as volunteer interpreters. School children, supported by the HSP mobile team, started organising activities such as blood donation drives. The HSP also became central in responding to local emergencies, such as cold waves, with the support of local communities.

Date submitted:

28 September 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.

 

 

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).